821 Sixth Avenue was a kind of funnel, with people from all over the country finding their way there. It was an intersection of people that could have occurred nowhere other than New York. Jazz musicians were flocking to the city, along with many others aspiring to new lives. Suddenly this loft building, which had been abandoned for decades, became a spot where you could stop by and see an icon, or see unknown junkies strung out on the fourth-floor landing, or see nobody at all, only empty Rheingold bottles, hundreds of cigarette butts, and tin cans of half-eaten food. Smith once called the story of the loft scene a “unique piece of Americana.”
To date, using Smith’s photos and tapes and interviews with loft participants, the Jazz Loft Project has documented 597 people who passed through the loft building in the 1950s and 1960s. Please explore the directory of names to learn more about these individuals. If you have any information or memories about the people listed here, please email us. Your contributions are valuable as we continue to document the story of 821 Sixth Avenue.